Dealing with supply chain disruptions

When workers essential to the food supply become ill, how does this affect the food supply chain within the meat industry?
calendar icon 2 June 2020
clock icon 7 minute read
A woman looking at meat in a grocery store.
If meat packing plant employees get sick, what happens to the supply chain? | Photo by USDA ARS

Farmers who normally supply these markets are left with few options, often turning to small-scale meat processing operations.

Many smaller processors are not equipped with the resources to absorb higher volumes of production. Limitations such as structural restrictions, fewer staff, limited capital and the lack of necessary equipment to operate such large volumes are often a challenge for smaller businesses. As a result, many livestock suppliers have nowhere to go with their livestock. Without an outlet for the supply, farmers may experience situations where alternative options are needed for their livestock.

With these considerations in mind, what viable options exist for livestock producers if they are unable to get their livestock to a processor?


Feedlot operators with contract cattle may be asked to hold cattle longer. In those situations, the following practices may be recommended:

  • Continue feeding finishing diet
  • Back down to a lower energy grower or maintenance diet

Depending on length of the supply chain disruption, feeder cattle might not be purchased due to a backlog of contract cattle and feeder markets may decrease. Deacon calves may also have a decreased market leading to the potential of euthanasia. Additional information can be found by contacting a member of the Michigan State University Extension beef team.


Some farms may need to decrease milk production due to issues with milk hauling and processing as well as issues with on-farm labor. Drying off cattle early is an option that could reduce labor needs and decrease milk production. Farms could move from 3 X milking to 2 X milking of all cows to reduce production or consider a combination of 2 X and 3 X milking where low production cows are dropped down to 2 X milking.

To reduce feed consumption and lower milk production, consider drying off late lactation animals early. Furthermore, work with your nutritionist to take out some high cost energy items in your ration.

Check with the stockyards to confirm if regular schedules are still being followed. Follow the Fit for Transport Guide from the American Association of Bovine Practitioners as animals will most likely be transported farther distances during this time. When a cow is suffering from a disease or injury, the humane choice is to euthanize on-farm rather than send her on a long trailer ride. Where possible, hold healthy cull cows until you can sell them and check your feed inventory to make sure you have enough feed for the cull cows. Lastly, consider drying them and putting them on a low-cost diet like a dry cow, heifer ration or pasture. Additional information can be found by contacting a member of the MSU Extension dairy team.


It is times like this, that packer arrangements and established relationships are proven valuable. Consideration can be given to slow the gains of hogs in late finishing by 25 - 30% or from 2.2 pounds per day to 1.7 pounds per day by feeding less energy-dense diets (less than 1,470 kcal ME/lb.) and less essential amino acids (0.1 or 0.15 less the SID lysine recommendation; keeping other ratios the same).

Attempting to stop growth in hogs is discouraged as this will compromise animal health and carcass quality. Slowing growth, however, will gain a producer a couple of weeks of “holding” time in the finishing barn. Farms with lower hog numbers can potentially slow growth for a longer period of time, resulting in very heavy carcasses.

Additional variable costs in holding hogs will likely be greater than the returns. There may also be a need for additional finishing space in the production system when holding hogs longer. During warmer weather, the use of a hoop-barn, open-fronted barns and other older facilities could be options to accommodate the need to hold hogs longer than normal.

Producers should communicate with and make non-traditional arrangements with their current packers to determine if they might need to look for other packers or butchers. This may mean staging delivery and accepting the price that is offered. This might also mean heavy hogs being sold in the sow market. In drastic situations, backed-up flow in the production system, may require:

  • Euthanasia of the very youngest animals
  • Discontinued pregnancy and breeding of sow groups for a time
  • Discontinued movement of new replacement gilts into the breeding herd. Additional information can be found by contacting a member of the MSU Extension pork team.

Small Ruminants

Market lambs and cull sheep are currently seeing a reduction at market and auctions. Fewer buyers mean reduced prices. Consider maintenance diets instead of finishing diets by feeding a lower concentrate/higher forage diet. Moreover, be sure ram lambs are castrated. If inexpensive feed is available, consider holding culls until the market opens.

In goat dairies, consider feeding milk to buck kids to sell as meat kids in the fall and consider culling the least productive animals as the cull market is currently in good shape. Additional information can be found by contacting a member of the MSU Extension small ruminant team.

MSU Extension recognizes that one option which may be necessary is the euthanasia of some animals. The second article in this series, Planning tool for welfare culling during farm disrupted operations; describes humane, on-farm euthanasia practices, while the third article, In times of supply chain disruption, how do I appropriately dispose of my livestock mortalities? discusses proper mortality management.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit

Michigan State University Extension

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